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Berkshire Mosquito Control Efforts In Full Swing

JJ Harrison/Wikimedia Commons

While warmer temperatures bring promise of backyard barbeques and days at the beach, they also mean the arrival of some irritating residents.

Every day, Chris Horton suits up to do a job that would horrify most people.

“Basically, we’re wearing hip boots," said Horton. "So we get in the water, and we have what they call a dip cup. It’s a standard tool in mosquito control, it’s a plastic cup at the end of a stick, holds about 12 ounces, and you dip the water and actually look in the water to see the mosquito larvae. Which will be wiggling this time of year.”

Horton is the only full-time employee of the Pittsfield-based Berkshire County Mosquito Control Project.

“The number is astronomical. For instance, in that 12-ounce cup, last year in the spring, we were dipping a single cup with over 200 larvae in it. And that water was – that individual pool was probably as big as a swimming pool, so there were thousands of those cups in that one spot," said Horton. "So I mean — the possibility for the number of mosquitos that COULD hatch is incredible.”

Horton only has one objective.

“What we’re trying to do is keep the mosquito populations at a tolerable level, so that people don’t really notice the annoyance,” said the mosquito czar.

He talks about his work modestly, but the undertaking is massive.

“We have basically 500 known breeding locations in member towns in Berkshire County, and what we’re doing right now, is we’re surveying every breeding site to see if they’re developing larvae, and if they are, we’re treating that spot with bacterial larvicide, which will kill the larvae and prevent the mosquitos from coming out,” said Horton.

Joined by a trio of seasonal workers, Horton’s work begins in earnest in April.

“Cities contract with us and we provide comprehensive mosquito control for the whole town or city,” said Horton.

His beat covers 10 Berkshire communities this year.

“Clarksburg, Pittsfield, Lanesborough, Hinsdale, Otis, Tyringham, Richmond, Sheffield, Stockbridge, and we also have a road management district in Becket,” said Horton.

It’s not a glamorous job.

“We come in at 7. I mean, we’ve had a few days over the past couple weeks where we’ve had really cold morning and cold nights, so there’s a skin of ice," Horton said. "And we generally want that to melt off during the day so that the product we’re applying will actually get in the water column.”

But Horton says it’s easy to find the silver lining.

“Being out in the field, it’s a great part of this job, because we’re basically from one end of the county to the other, and we’re in all the beautiful wetlands and you always see great birds and great wildlife and things," he said. "So it’s a great time to be out.”

Despite the season’s wiggling larvae and countless hordes of the most despised insect in the world, the spring still holds some magic for him.

“I’m happy to hear the birds singing and just see – it’s like the earth is starting to wake up, so. It’s fun to be out there and around it,” said Horton.

The American Mosquito Control Agency says the insects cause more human suffering than any other organism, carrying diseases like West Nile Virus, Yellow Fever, and Eastern Equine Encephalitis. More than a million people die every year from mosquito-borne illnesses. Berkshire residents who don’t want their property sprayed with Horton’s larvicide can apply to be included on the state’s no spray list.

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